Skin Color Discrimination: The Latino Case

Results from a Pew Research Center survey show the persistence in the United States of an association between Latinos’ skin color and their experiences of white (and other) discrimination.

Sixty-four percent of dark-skinned Latinos reported they had experienced discrimination or unfair treatment from time to time whereas the corresponding figure for those with lighter skin was 50 percent. Dark skin was associated with stereotypes. Fifty-five percent of Latinos with dark skin said that people have reacted to them as though the Latinos were not smart, vis-à-vis 36 percent of those with light skins. Additionally, fifty-three percent of Latinos with dark skin stated that they had been victims of slurs or racist jokes, while the comparable figure for light-skinned ones was 34 percent.

The survey also asked Latinos what race people would assume they were if they walked past them on the street. Seventy-one percent said others saw them as Hispanic or Latino, 19 percent as white and approximately 5 percent as members of other races (the report does not mention the remaining 5 percent, although it is safe to assume that they were survey non-responders).

Among Latinos who reported being seen as People of Color, 62 percent stated that they had experienced discrimination while the corresponding figure for those saying they were perceived as white was 50 percent. Finally, Latino respondents said that when they are perceived as People of Color, individuals were more likely to view them with suspicion or treat them as not being smart. The question arises whether the effects of skin color and speaking Spanish might be cumulative. However, the Pew survey does not report such data.

It is important to emphasize that although dark-skinned Latinos were more likely to be victims of discrimination or arouse suspicion, both light- and dark-skinned Latinos reported substantial rates of negative experiences. Thus, while lighter-complected Latinos might manage to escape discrimination more frequently than darker ones, they are still Latinos and their skin color is not sufficient to save them completely from the consequences of white racism.

And note too the direction in which this racialized colorism always operates: Lighter/whiter is always better than darker/browner-blacker. White racial framing–prizing white/lightness in physical look–has affected how most people frame and think for centuries, in the US and abroad.

Log Cabin Republicans: Gay Racism

In July of 2016 the Log Cabin Republicans, an LGBT Republican organization, criticized the Republican party for putting forward what they called “the most anti-LGBT platform in the party’s 162-year history.” Gregory T. Angelo, the president at the time mentioned how, included within the Republican platform, you will find “opposition to marriage equality, nonsense about bathrooms, an endorsement of the debunked psychological practice of ‘pray the gay away’ — it’s all in there.” During this time, the organization declined to support then Republican candidate Donald Trump, finding his candidacy unpredictable and therefore unsupportable. Yes, to the amazement of a small bunch of conservative LGBT folks and the bewilderment of the rest of us who have known this for quite some time, the Log Cabin Republicans learned that the Republican party was anti-LGBT. Surprise!

Then something happened. On August 16th, 2019, the Log Cabin Republicans, to the shock and awe of no one really, reversed course and endorsed Donald Trump for reelection in 2020. While the organization has never really been a staple of the Republican party, it has gained a stronger footing in recent years. This can be attributed to several factors, including an increasing number of US Americans supporting LGBT rights, and the public bluster of President Trump, whom Angelo described as “perhaps the most pro-LGBT presidential nominee in the history of the Republican Party.” This supposed pro-LGBT stance can be attributed to Trump’s 2016 Republican National Convention acceptance speech, where he stated that he would do “everything in my power to protect our L.G.B.T.Q. citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology.” As such, the Log Cabin Republicans felt like Trump kept his promise and here we are, at their surprising (but not so surprising) support for President Trump.

Ironically, in the same month that Log Cabin Republicans endorsed Trump, CBS News reported that his administration moved to eliminate “nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people by adding religious exemptions to an Obama-era 2014 executive order which “prohibited discrimination in hiring on the basis of both sexual orientation and gender identity.” You read that correctly. The same organization that declined to support Trump previously and found the Republican platform to be the most anti-LGBT, now endorses Trump right as his administration works to remove LGBT protections. This, on top of the fact that Trump has nominated several anti-LGBT judges to courts across the US, initiated a ban on transgender soldiers in the military, and whose Vice President is one of the most extreme anti-LGBT Vice Presidents on record. So what gives? What made the Log Cabin Republicans reverse course? One way to make sense of this is to use the concept of “interest convergence.” According to the late great Law Professor Dr. Derrick Bell, when white people, in general, only support racial justice because there is something in it for them, this becomes interest convergence. For example, in the 1954 case of Brown v. Board of Education that found “separate but equal” unconstitutional, Bell argued that United States had an interest in presenting itself to the world and the Soviet Union as pro-civil and human rights and that this was the real reason behind it finding the law unconstitutional and not because all of a sudden the US become enlightened and found black people as equal to whites. Now let’s take the same rational behind the concept and apply it to the Log Cabin Republicans and Donald Trump but instead of the interests being in racial justice, lets imagine that it is racism.

In an op-ed for the Washington Post, Robert Kabel and Jill Homan, the current chairman and woman of the Log Cabin Republicans, argued that while they don’t agree with everything the Trump administration is doing, they support Trump’s push to end HIV in 10 years and his protections of LGBT families. While on the surface these policies seem to protect all LGBT people, they are really aimed to attract white gay men.

For instance, while new advances in science and technology have decreased HIV infection rates in the US, these medicines are more likely to be in the hands of white gay men than men and woman of color, the group most likely to be infected by HIV. It also doesn’t help that in March of 2019 the Trump administration proposed huge cuts to Medicaid and Medicare, which provide health coverage to many poor people, and people of color. The result of which Jen Kates, from the Kaiser Family Foundation, predicts will work against the Ending the HIV Epidemic program. As she said for NBC news, “With infectious disease, pulling back resources historically has led to increase in infectious disease.” Surprise! Who would have thought that stripping health care from the most vulnerable people will result in higher infection rates? Being that more and more LGBT people are young, of color and from a lower income group, they will be most likely harmed by such cuts, resulting in less access to prevention medications. Still, by making the call to end HIV and making sure that white gay men have access to such resources while gay people of color don’t, the anti-LGBT Trump administration and the pro-LGBT Log Cabin Republicans found a converging point for their interests.

Similarly, their interests converged for the call to end the criminalization of homosexuality globally. NBC reported that a young, gay Iranian man was hung to death as a result of the country’s anti-homosexuality laws. The Trump Administration took the opportunity to claim that their random push to decriminalize homosexuality globally was because of this incident. In reality though, the Trump administration wants to end the Iran Nuclear Deal and wants other countries to join suit and to impose economic sanctions on the country. European nations have been hesitant to do so and so the administration is using human rights, in the form of a global push to decriminalize homosexuality, as a point of agreement with these countries on Iran. Thus, once again, interest convergence explains this scenario better than the Log Cabin’s claim that Trump has kept his promise to the LGBT community.

It makes little sense for the Trump administration to claim a moral superiority over countries that outright kill homosexuals when their policies are anything but friendly to LGBT folks. Research shows that when “transgender youths are allowed to use their chosen name in places such as work, school and at home, their risk of depression and suicide drops.” That is, being able to use the name that matches their gender identity literally saves their lives. Still, in November of 2018, the Trump administration pressured the international 4-H youth organization to remove a policy that asked the local programs to “treat all students consistent with their gender identity and allow them ‘equal access.’” This disparity between claiming to be for LGBT people and doing things that harm LGBT people can be concealed under the guise that Trump is fighting to protect queer lives by pushing for the decriminalization of homosexuality.

The Log Cabin Republicans interests converged with the Trump administrations once again over families. According to Robert Kabel and Jill Homan, Trump has supposedly done much to protect LGBT families. One just has to wonder though, which LGBT families are they talking about? The Muslim ban proposed by Trump tore apart families. The concentration camps that currently house immigrants are similarly harmful to families. And the Trump family separation policy that takes children from their parents at the border clear rips families apart. In case the Log Cabin Republicans forgot, many LGBT people are Muslim, Latino, and immigrants. It seems like these families were forgotten. Or, surprise! They weren’t even considered in their endorsement because they are not the sort of LGBT families Trump or the Log Cabin Republicans care about.

Using interest convergence, we can now see why the Log Cabin Republicans endorsed Trump. Even though many would see Trump’s words, policies, and actions, as harmful to LGBT people, in reality, they are particularly harmful to LGBT racial and gender minorities and not so much gay white men, whom make up the majority of the organization. In fact, it is in their shared whiteness that the Trump Administration and the Log Cabin Republicans have a joint interest. So, of course they would endorse Trump. His racist actions and policies hurt people the Log Cabin Republicans could care less about. At least, it’s not a surprise anymore.

Jesús Gregorio Smith is an assistant professor of Ethnic Studies at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin. His research centers on the intersections of race, gender and sexuality and how they impact health.

Bridges Across Savage Inhumanities

“The camps set up for Japanese Americans, like the camps we are currently forcing asylum seekers into were awful, but they are not engines of genocide.”–Evan Gerstmann

I mourn the way some persons, in general, and some persons who are Jewish, in particular, claim ownership of words like “Concentration Camp” (as if many other peoples have not been systematically corralled and detained in unsanitary, malnourished, dehumanizing prisons/penal structures); and words like “Genocide” (as if the cruel erasure of the aborigines of Tasmania never happened; as if we merely had a nightmare about the reduction of 90% of many North American Indigenous peoples via warfare, biological warfare, policies of extermination, disease, policies of termination, etc. And these are just a few examples). Though the word “genocide” was coined in the wake of Nazi atrocities against Jews, Roma, and others, there have been many, many, more genocides (as well as many more concentration camps). Yes! The Jewish Holocaust of Nazi Germany is among the most inhumane atrocities out there, ever. But I mourn the tendency of some Jews to claim ownership of these words because doing so builds barriers instead of bridges among those who have also suffered very savage inhumanities. We need to learn the lessons of these atrocities instead of engaging in what Elizabeth Martinez has referred to as the “Oppression Olympics.”

Even the initial concentration camps of the Third Reich, as dehumanizing as they were, did not start out as death camps. Persons incarcerated could be and were killed/murdered by German officials; but the “Final Solution” came later. Scholars disagree over that actual start of the “Final Solution,” but it was with the implementation of the “Final Solution” around about 1941 that the atrocities of the Third Reich hit even more horrific heights. (See Holocaust Encyclopedia here)

We must remember that the atrocities of the Third Reich happened in stages. We have to be mindful of those stages. We must do all in our power to make sure that the detention camps at the southern border of the U.S. today do not descend into bureaucratized death camps!

There are many crimes of Western imperialism dating back to the late 1400s. If we look carefully and critically at Spain’s Encomienda system imposed upon the Indigenous Peoples in “Hispaniola” in the late 1490s and at the Praying Towns forced upon Indigenous Americans during the early Massachusetts colonies of the mid-1600s, we will probably find concentration-like camps that descended into death camps. Many millions of indigenous people died or were killed as a result of violent European invasions of the Americas.

However, of this I am sure: There were horrific concentration camps that descended into death camps before the cruelties of the Third Reich. For example, there are the horrors of the British Raj and the death camps of Lord Lytton in the mid-to-late 1800s. (see source here).

The British would go on to use concentration camps at the turn of the 20th century for the Boers and Native South Africans. Then the British seemed to say, “tag you’re it” to the Germans. In the early 1900s the Herero and Nama death camps (especially Shark Island) happened in the country today known as Namibia; the Herero and Namaqua concentration/death camps occurred 30 years before the Third Reich. These death camps were, actually, a German colonial invention. But these British and German penal structures still post-date the U.S. reservation system imposed upon Native Americans (which included concentration camps and prisoner of war camps). And although the internment camps that imprisoned Japanese Americans did not descend into death camps, they were definitely concentration camps.

In short the concentration camps of the Third Reich were extraordinarily anti-human and atrocious in their scale and impact. But so were some of the concentration camps that preceded the Third Reich.

I agree with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s application of “concentration camps” to the anti-human detention camps currently being used to imprison US immigrants and refugees, almost all people of color. And I pray and protest that the migrant concentration camps do not evolve into death camps or camps linked to the earlier genocidal practices.

Dr. Lory Janelle Dance
Associate Professor of Sociology and Ethnic Studies
Associate Director of the Institute for Ethnic Studies
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Visiting Senior Researcher
Human Rights Studies Program
Lund University, Sweden

Latino Peoples’ Resistance to Language Silencing

Research Joe Feagin and I conducted revealed that when silencing attempts are directed at Latino peoples they frequently do not accept them meekly but are likely to respond against the perpetrators’ command in strong terms. Here is an example: A Cuban-American executive and his wife, though fluent in English, spoke in Spanish to their son so that he would learn the language. They were at Disneyworld and after he spoke in Spanish to their son an unsavory silencing episode occurred that could have turned into a tragedy. He described it as follows:

I had a really bad experience at Disneyworld . . . . My son at the time was three . . . . He jumped the line and went straight to where there was Pluto or Mickey Mouse or something and I said “[Son’s name], come back,” in Spanish and . . . ran after him. And I heard behind me somebody say, “It would be a fucking spic that would cut the line.” Now my wife saw who said it, and I said ”Who said that?” in English and nobody said a word. And I said [to my wife], “Point him out, I want to know who said that,” and she refused. I was like, “Who was the motherfucker who said that?” I said, “Be brave enough to say it to my face because I’m going to kill you.” You can see me, I’m 6’3’’, 275 [pounds]. Nobody volunteered . . . . [Interviewer:] So nobody stepped up? No, no and there was a bunch of guys there, and I would have thrown down two or three of them; I wouldn’t have had a problem (pp. 49-50).

The executive was willing to confront the perpetrator physically. Fortunately, the situation did not reach that point, but he stated in unequivocal terms his opposition to the treatment received by his child from a white bigot.

A recent silencing episode resulted in a surprising and delightful case of resistance. The victim of the silencing attempt relates the episode as follows:

This man just asked me to “please stop speaking Spanish” on this plane to NYC (in his defense it’s very early and he’s racist) so the man next to him STARTED SPEAKING SPANISH and then the flight attendant [started speaking Spanish as well].

The silencer did not anticipate that there we other Spanish speakers nearby. One can only imagine his reaction when confronted with a joint resistance response. As the number of Spanish speakers in the US is augmented with the immigration from Latin America, and since there are no indications that tolerance of Spanish will increase among whites and others, one can expect episodes of the silencing-resistance dialectic to become more frequent.

Since it would be absurd to expect a people to become crypto-speakers of their own language, it seems as if an increase in tolerance for Spanish among those who blindly oppose it is the only solution to defuse a potentially dangerous situation. We can start by electing politicians who hold a pro-Latino platform and display an interest in speaking Spanish in public and thus will promote its legitimacy.

Silencing Spanish Speakers

CNN reports an act of silencing Spanish that took place at a Burger King restaurant in Eustis, Florida on July 6.

Two white customers became upset because a manager had a brief conversation in Spanish with one of his employees. After the employee left, the customers told the manager they wanted to complain. Thinking they were dissatisfied with their meal, he offered to give them credit or a free desert. One of the customers explained that their complaint was about the manager’s speaking Spanish. They said that he shouldn’t be speaking Spanish but “American English” instead because “we’re in America.” The manager said, “No ma’am, I don’t,” and one the protagonists told the manager to go back to Mexico. The manager responded “”Guess what ma’am, I’m not Mexican [he is of Puerto Rican descent] but you’re being very prejudiced and I want you out of my restaurant, right now.” The customers responded that what they meant was that the manager should speak Spanish at home, not in public places like the restaurant and added they would leave after they finished their meals but left soon thereafter left after the manager threatened to call the police.

This was an episode in silencing. Joe Feagin and I discussed silencing in our book, where we point out that silencing is related to beliefs in the White Racial Frame that define vernacular Spanish as not having legitimacy in the United States and others have the authority to interfere in conversations in Spanish and demand that the speakers stop and switch to English.

As we said in the book and have repeated elsewhere, silencing is on the surface absurd since it demands that people abandon their language, the one they feel comfortable speaking, and switch to English, a foreign language. It is in fact an extreme act of denigration against Latinos, a rooted people in the US, and their language, which is equally rooted. On the surface it is white elite racism in its purest form: claiming white supremacy over vernacular Spanish on utterly racist, xenophobic, and irrational grounds.

Spanish as Old Respected Language: Why Not Now?

The Spanish language has followed two paths in the history of the United States: early on as a respected language and more recently as the derided vernacular of a racialized people. The majority of the sociological literature has focused on the racialization of Spanish and skipped over the “acceptable” roots of the language in this country. But both coexist today and the former’s status cannot be properly understood without consideration of the status of the latter.

The respectability of Spanish can be traced to early colonial days. Both Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson stated that the study of Spanish would be beneficial to young men interested in commerce and Jefferson included Spanish in the curriculum that he designed for the College of William and Mary. By the nineteenth century Spanish-language instruction was adopted by many institutions of higher education, including Harvard University and other Ivy League schools and Spanish-language newspapers were published in New Mexico, Louisiana, and other areas of the United States.

Spanish remains “respectable” in academic and artistic areas, but since the end of the war between the US and Mexico in the 1840s there has been a significant white racialization of Spanish as the language of conquered Latino peoples. Even as millions of former Mexican citizens, most of whom spoke Spanish as their native tongue, were incorporated into the United States, the dominant White Racial Frame declared vernacular Spanish as foreign and not belonging in the United States.

Such assertions are simplistic and inaccurate. They represent justifications of the subjugation of Latino peoples and lack a factual basis. Historian Rosina Lozano explains the complex history of Spanish in the US and its legitimacy (pp. 4-5):

After the passage of centuries, Spanish became the native language of Spanish settlements in Louisiana, parts of the future U.S. Midwest, and the future Southwest, and the lingua franca for many American Indians who lived among these Spanish-speaking settlements. Over the course of the twentieth century, migration to the United States from Latin American countries has replenished Spanish’s place in the country and bolstered perceptions of Spanish as an immigrant language, distracting most from its earlier manifestations. This long exposure to the Spanish language makes it part of the nation’s fabric.

Although I have not conducted a systematic study, it seems to me that recently the racialization of Spanish has been fused with the xenophobia that has made “Latino” and vernacular Spanish coterminous with “illegal” and the rejection of immigrants entails the rejection of their everyday language.

Research that Joe Feagin and I have conducted shows that Spanish speakers “caught” conversing in their own language are admonished to “speak English, this is America.” In other words, Spanish does not belong in the United States as a vernacular and neither do you as a Latino. This situation approaches lunacy. The deep rootedness of vernacular Spanish in North and South America is undeniable and its rejection as a legitimate everyday language in the US defies its importance in areas such as politics, business, and the media in North and South America. These are positions incongruent with the facts but consonant with a White Racial Frame that provides an ideology that supports the exploitation of a vulnerable proletariat.

I would venture a guess that, in the eyes of the white elite, the Spanish language as an academic and literate language that does not challenge their interests, will remain respectable while vernacular Spanish, the language of the oppressed, will continue to be a handy tool to deride Latinos/”illegals” for a long time. That is, the treatment of Spanish in the US by whites is about a log more than language. Try white racism.

Trump’s Policies: Killing Immigrant Latino Children

As I plan a beautiful summer filled with fun with my family, my heart is heavy knowing that there are hundreds of immigrant children from Latin America who are locked up in modern day concentration camps–U.S. detention centers. These children are waking up on concrete floors, do not have access to toothbrushes, or soap, and most importantly, do not know when or if, they will ever see their families again. They are suffering both physical harm leading to deaths under our government’s watch and great psychological abuse that will create long-lasting trauma for them.

On June 21, 2019 the PBS News Hour reported on the horrible conditions in one of these detention centers in Clint, Texas where some of these immigrant Latino children from toddlers to teenagers were being held until yesterday when they were quickly relocated to another detention center. They lacked basic needs such as food, water, or proper sanitation. Willamette University law professor Warren Binford was interviewed by the News Hour after visiting the facility. She states:

Basically, what we saw are dirty children who are malnourished, who are being severely neglected. They are being kept in inhumane conditions. They are essentially being warehoused, as many as 300 children in a cell, with almost no adult supervision….We’re seeing a flu outbreak, and we’re also seeing a lice infestation. It is — we have children sleeping on the floor. It’s the worst conditions I have ever witnessed in several years of doing these inspections.

Under these horrific and inhumane conditions, it should come as no surprise that children are dying under our government’s care.

President Trump’s racialized immigration policy is killing immigrant Latino children. Six migrant children have died in U.S. custody between September 2018 to May 2019 for the first time in a decade. The recent origins of this situation began last April when more than 2600 undocumented children were separated from their parents at the U.S. border and locked up in detention centers that were not designed to house children under Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy. Child separations and detention is an example of the kind of tragic policy Bill Hong Hing argues brings shame to us as a nation and violates our constitutional rights. Hing states:

The age of hysteria over immigration in which we live leads to tragic policies that challenge us as a moral society. Policies that are unnecessarily harsh—that show a dehumanizing side of our character—are senseless. They bring shame to us as a civil society.” (2006: p. 7).

Rather than feeling shame for these appalling practices, US government lawyers have been justifying this abusive policy in the courts. Lawyers for Good Government, a nonprofit organization that formed after the election of Donald Trump, states:

The Trump administration argued in court this week that detained migrant children do not require basic hygiene products (like soap and toothbrushes) to be held in “safe and sanitary” conditions. Lawyers who recently interviewed detained children report that kids are living in “traumatic and dangerous” conditions – insufficient food and water, going weeks without bathing, kids as young as 7 years old being told to care for the babies and toddlers.

These conditions will cause more deaths in these modern-day concentration camps. This weekend alone four more children under age three at a detention center in Texas, were hospitalized with life threatening conditions.

While most of the children from the Clint, Texas facility have now been moved to another detention center since the story broke, the larger problem is the underlying policy that allows for children to continue to be locked up and separated from their families. Taking them to another detention center doesn’t solve this larger policy issue, or remove the suffering these policy create.

This Administration’s cruel policy is exactly the kind of policy the President likes. Why? Because it serves his ends and displays his bully power over the most powerless. President Trump targets the vulnerable in order to please his white base, and immigrant children from Latin America are among the most vulnerable. It is a politically calculated strategy designed to gain emotional support from an anti-immigrant, and often, racist base.

Many of the greatest problems facing the Latinos stem from the consequences of the racism we have experienced in this country because of the still dominant white racial frame. Caging and abusing innocent Latino toddlers and children could only happen after centuries of the dehumanization of Latinos, who are situated within a systematic racialization of people of color in the United States. As Feagin and Cobas argue, Latinos have been and continue to exist within a particular racial frame, as part of a white-imposed “hierarchy of racialized groups in this country” (2014: p. 48). Their analysis traces the subordination of Latinos through the white racial frame, which has resulted in discriminatory actions towards them by racist whites and in continued race-based exclusion at all levels of society. They state:

For more than a century and a half, Latino groups’ positioning on this society’s racial ladder has been a powerful determinant of their members’ racialized treatment, socioeconomic opportunities, and access to various types of social capital (2014: p. 15).

It is in this context that this appalling abuse of immigrant Latino children can take place without massive large scale civil unrest by Americans throughout the nation. While there have been and are some protests developing across the globe such as the upcoming one on July 12, 2019 by the Lights for Liberty, can we imagine the continued national uproar that would occur if these children were Swedish immigrants being locked up in cages, denied beds, adequate food, water, and sanitation resulting in some of them dying? If it were Swedish immigrant children being treated the way Latino immigrant children are then more people would be protesting in the streets. This abuse will go down in history among the worst atrocities committed by the U.S. government towards people of color along with the taking of Native American children from their families, the terror of Jim Crow, or the Japanese Internment.

Donald Trump’s framing of immigrants from Latin America immigrants as “criminals” and “rapists ” proved so successful to his election to the presidency in 2016, that we should be prepared for more of what political scientist Peter Andreas calls “performative art” as the 2020 election season intensifies. And the paint is going to continue to be the blood of immigrant children.

How can we continue to dehumanize children to the point where separating them from their families and holding them in these conditions becomes our public policy? Why aren’t the Democrats calling out how this Administration’s policies are killing children? Why aren’t we insisting Congress pass comprehensive immigration reform? Why is there not greater large scale civil unrest to this situation? Why aren’t we all calling out how President Trump’s policies are killing immigrant Latino children?

As we plan for our children’s summer of fun, we should all remember there are Latino immigrant children who are interned in modern day concentration camps–alone, scared, in metal cages, and without adequate nutrition, hygiene, or medical care. They are children, just like our children. Our government and our president are treating them WORSE than animals. There are animal cruelty laws that exist that prohibit people from leaving dogs unattended in inhumane conditions. These immigrant Latino children are receiving no such protections. The contrast between our healthy kids’ lives and the lives of these Latino immigrant children is truly heartbreaking.

Celebrating Juneteenth

(Originally posted in 2017)

“By putting on their very best clothes, the black people were signaling they were free,” historian Jackie Jones relates. “It enraged white people. They hated to see black people dressed up because it turned their world upside down.” Sartorial display is woven into resistance and celebrations of the African American holiday Juneteenth.

Emancipation Day, Austin, Texas, 1900 (from Wikipedia)

 

Today marks the anniversary of the original Juneteenth, a celebration marking the end of slavery. What began as a regional celebration in Galveston, Texas has grown to a national commemoration that people celebrate in a variety of ways. NPR’s Code Switch has been collecting stories of how people celebrate at the hashtag #WouldntBeJuneteenthWithout, but I there is a pall over the usual celebratory mood of this Juneteenth by recent events in Seattle, where Charleena Lyles was killed by police after she called them to report a burglary, and in Minnesota, where the police officer on trial for killing Philando Castile, was acquitted on all charges.

Indeed, after the ongoing police-murder of Black people, the celebration of Juneteenth and the struggle behind it, take on a renewed sense of urgency and poignancy. Why celebrate it at all? It wasn’t always a widely recognized holiday, and it was a struggle to get it recognized.

The Struggle to Make Juneteenth a State Holiday

Juneteenth hasn’t always been recognized as a holiday, and in the family I came from it was often scoffed at (lots of derision about the name of the holiday). So the fact that Juneteenth is now an official state holiday in Texas and many other communities across the US, is significant and is only possible because of a political struggle waged by one Houston Democratic legislator, (former) state representative Al Edwards. It seems impossible now to mention a black, Democratic state representative and not call to mind, Rep. Clementa Pinckney, gunned down while leading that Wednesday night service in Charleston.

Former Texas State Rep. Al Edwards

Former Texas State Rep. Al Edwards

Edwards was born in Houston in 1937, the sixth of sixteen children, and was first elected as a state representative in 1978 from Houston’s District 146, the area known as Alief. A year later, in 1979, Edwards authored and sponsored House Bill 1016, making June 19th (“Juneteenth”) a paid state holiday in Texas.

Everyone, it seemed, opposed the idea. In a recent interview about this bill, attorney Doug McLeod, a conservative Democratic representative from Galveston at the time said of Edwards, “He really had an uphill battle. He had opposition from the left and the right.” Mostly white conservative Democratic majority viewed the bill as a hard sell to their constituents and many of Edwards’ 14 fellow black legislators saw it as a diversion from securing a holiday for Martin Luther King.

House Bill 1016 appeared to be headed nowhere when Edwards, a Democrat who was new to the legislature, originally filed it. Eventually, he got McLeod to sign on to the bill and Bill Clayton, then speaker of the Texas legislature.

Then-Gov. Bill Clements, a Republican, declined to endorse the Juneteenth bill, but he agreed to sign it if passed. Through a series of negotiations and brokered deals over votes, Rep. Edwards eventually prevailed and got the bill through the legislature. When the bill passed, white conservative opponents urged the governor not to sign the bill, but Clements kept his word and signed the bill on the Texas State Capitol steps. This prompted other states to follow suit. Now 43 states and the District of Columbia recognize Juneteenth in some way or another.

History and Struggle Behind Juneteenth

President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863 and Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered on April 9, 1865, but people remained enslaved within the state of Texas.

This happened for two reasons.

First, Texas slave owners refused to release the people they were holding as slaves. They basically just wouldn’t acknowledge that the Emancipation Proclamation or Lee’s surrender had happened or had any bearing on them (cf. “States Rights,” see also Texas is a Whole Other Country).

Second, slave owners from neighboring states in the south looked on Texas as a haven for slavery, so they poured into Texas with an estimated 125,000-150,000* enslaved people from surrounding Confederate states (*historians debate the precise number).

In a recent interview, Jackie Jones,a history professor at the University of Texas at Austin.”The idea was Texas was so vast that the federal government would never be able to conquer it all. There is this view that if they want to hold onto their slaves, the best thing to do is get out of the South and go to Texas.”

This ended on June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston and again declared the end of the Civil War, with General Granger reading aloud a special decree that ordered the freeing of some 200,000 people still in bondage in Texas.

Today, some 43 states and the District of Columbia recognize Juneteenth in some way. This would not have been possible without the vision of Rep. Al Edwards and the struggle to make it a reality.

In times like these, what’s to celebrate?

With the official, legal end of chattel slavery — and the enforcement of that decree in Texas — there was much to celebrate in 1865. It was no longer legal for human beings to be sold on auction blocks as they had been. And, to be clear, the US didn’t just tolerate slavery as an economic system, it expanded and prospered on it. The overturning of this dehumanizing system was a momentous victory for a multi-racial group of abolitionists who waged a decades long campaign to end slavery.

Reconstruction followed, creating new opportunities for African Americans who owned and profited from their own land and began to participate in local politics.

Most Americans remain confused about the period of Reconstruction, and many still subscribe toA false story of Reconstruction disseminated in popular culture through things like the film Birth of a Nation. Although historians including Columbia University’s Eric Foner have shown the extraordinary political, economic, and legal gains of Reconstruction, as Gregory P. Downs notes at TPM.

One historian, C. Vann Woodward, has called the period of “the forgotten alternatives.” During the period between 1870 and 1900, there was some racial integration in housing and privately-owned facilities. Black people could travel on public transportation, vote and get elected, get jobs, including on police forces, and enjoy many public facilities.

But. the gains of Reconstruction were short-lived.

This “alternative” approach to race during Reconstruction ended when what Woodward calls the “strange career” of Jim Crow segregation, began — first by whites in the North, and expanded with a vengeance by Southern whites. Within thirty years of emancipation, laws were instituted that stripped African Americans of their rights, making celebrations like Juneteenth a distant memory. A prison-labor paradigm developed. White jail owners profited from the hard labor of their black inmates who were incarcerated for petty crimes like vagrancy, which carried long sentences. White landowners replaced chattel slavery with a deceptive practice called debt peonage, a new form of bondage continued for many blacks for decades. It wasn’t until 1941 President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Circular No. 3591 which strengthened the Anti-Peonage Law of 1867, making it a criminal offense. Roosevelt launched a federal investigation, prosecuted guilty whites and effectively ended peonage in 1942.

So, why celebrate Juneteenth if white supremacy re-emerged with such a bloody return thirty short years later? Because celebration, commemoration and community are how we gain strength for the larger struggle.

Douglas Blackmon, author of Slavery by Another Name land co-executive producer of the documentary film by the same name, said this about Juneteenth:

“It’s important not to skip over the first part of true freedom. Public education as we know it today and the first property rights for women were instituted by African-American elected officials.”

Even as there is terrible news of continued police killing of Black people, it is worth taking a moment to reflect on other times, other struggles and other victories on this anniversary of Juneteenth.

 

 

 

Interpretive Social Science and the Experiences of Latino Professionals

One of the problems with academic social science research is the idea that good political analysis requires an emphasis on the “facts” and a de-emphasis on values or recommendations. This notion argues that social scientists should remain neutral observers who are limited to reporting empirical findings offering no policy recommendations.

However, this is simply not true. Rigorous auto-ethnographic research can give voice to marginalized communities and can lead to insights with meaningful societal implications. Auto-ethnography is defined as both:

the personal story of the author as well as the larger cultural meaning for the individual’s story” (2013 : 73).

This is what I’ve set out to do in Latino Professionals in America: Testimonios of Policy, Perseverance, and Success.

Through my own personal story and well-selected personal interviews, I engage in what Ron Schmidt, Sr. calls interpretive social science. According to Schmidt, interpretive political analysis

centers on approaches to political understanding that aim to clarify or illuminate the meaning and/or significance of political phenomena. (Schmidt 2016: 367).

This method is especially useful in doing research on racial and ethnic politics because it addresses barriers people of color face. With a growing racial gap along so many measures such as employment, earnings, poverty, housing, education, health, incarceration, and wealth, according to Stanford’s Center on Poverty and Inequality’s Pathways magazine, it is unethical to ignore policy solutions that address the real obstacles to making the U.S. a multiracial democracy.

My book is about my personal journey and that of 31 other Latinos who are the first in their families to graduate from college and enter the professions. As a first-generation Latina professional, I could have never earned my PhD and eventually become a university professor without the guidance and support of mentors, combined with concrete supportive public policies. Why? Because by the time I was sixteen years old I was a pregnant, high school dropout who was kicked out of my home. I had my first child at the age of seventeen and married the father, who was an undocumented immigrant.

In this book, I document the paths of Latinos from across the nation — in a variety of professions—and explore their experiences as professionals amid family struggles and the country’s enduring racism, and include a discussion of the public policies and programs that would help increase the presence of Latinos in the professional world. Latinos and other people of color are the demographic (near) future of the United States, predicted to be 56% of the population by 2060, yet we continue to be underrepresented in key professions and in political institutions. This underrepresentation has implications for the health of our democratic institutions and society.

There are great risks in revealing our personal stories. We expose ourselves to criticism from our families, culture, colleagues, and friends. And we fully expect this. However, the potential benefits will be worth it. In this unique scholarly book, we have turned our negative experiences and disappointments into fuel in the hopes that they will help, inspire, and empower others. Our experiences hold the potential to become empowering for first-generation and students of color, especially, and to provide meaningful, concrete policy solutions for increasing the number of Latino professionals, which remains extremely low in America today. As Schmidt argues,

interpretive methods can articulate and address important dimensions of the question of the breadth of racialization in the contemporary polity that cannot be addressed from within a scientistic research paradigm (p. 372).

After sharing our revealing and important stories, I conclude the book on Latino professionals with the following statement:

Will enough people do what is required to open opportunities for Latinos and expand the number of Latino professionals by strongly advocating for equity-enhancing public policies and participating in mentoring programs that empower and support Latinos, and challenging the white racial frame that provides them so many advantages, so that Latinos and other oppressed people of color in the United States can pursue their dreams? Only time will tell if we will be finally welcomed as equals in America (p. 187).

In the spirit of interpretive methods, our numerous detailed accounts illustrate how supportive equity-enhancing public policies like affirmative action opened up opportunities for us, and how dedicated teachers and mentors helped us guided us towards successful and rewarding lives.

Swedish Racism: False Images of Democracy (Part 2)

I wrote in my first essay how Sweden has tried to hide the structural and institutional racism behind its famous image of solidarity and equality. Although the Swedish welfare state has never been free from racism, indeed quite the contrary, there have been individuals in the leadership of Sweden’s Social Democratic Party, such as Olof Palme, who tried to combat racism both nationally and internationally. I wrote that twenty years after the assassination of Olof Palme, it became crystal clear to me that members of the democracy that I once believed in would invest far more energy and resources into denying harsh inequities than becoming the democracy that Palme stood and died for. Swedish political and academic institutions, which bear the responsibility for the reproduction of racism in the country, “shoot the messenger”, as Swedes say. In other words, instead of enacting policies and practices that combat racism, there has been a systematic response to discredit me and numerous others who took action against Swedish racism.

Political mobilization against and demonizing of Kamali

Just a few months before the parliamentary election of 2006, I was contacted by one of my friends from the Christian Democratic Party who informed me about a hidden political mobilization against me. The goal of this mobilization was to demonize me and invalidate the governmental investigation of racism that I was leading. An email was circulated among the four right-wing political parties called “the Alliance” concerning “how to confront Kamali’s investigation” before the election. After internal discussions, they agreed on a strategy that consisted of (1) demonizing and disqualifying me by questioning my academic merits, (2) mentioning my immigrant/Iranian/Muslim background in the editorials of unaccountable right-wing and conservative newspapers, and, (3) publishing a document designed to question the scientific grounds of my recommendations for changing institutional and structural racism as well as structural discrimination in Sweden. A right-wing think-tank named Timbro was one of the organizations that implemented this strategy. Timbro, which defines itself as a think-tank for the market economy, paid Henrik Borg, who was described as “A 25-years-old lawyer and Eastern European specialist from Uppsala.” Borg published a report called “Your questions provide you the desired answers: Masoud Kamali, Mona Sahlin and politicization of Swedish governmental investigations,” within a framework they called “Mission Sweden 2006.”

The ensuing debates in the editorials of right-wing and conservative journals sought to redirect the discourse and the public focus from institutional and structural racism as obstacles for group integration (a change and emphasis created by my investigation) to earlier deliberations, which presented immigrants and their cultures as the major problem of integration. Attacks upon the investigation coupled with ad-hominem attacks upon me occurred on a daily basis. Such attacks intensified the closer to the election of 2006 we came. The alliance of political parties appointed Nyamko Sabuni, who is a woman with immigrant, African, and Muslim origins, as the candidate for Minister of Integration. Sabuni claimed that the problem of immigrant integration had nothing to do with racism and discrimination, but with immigrants’ unwillingness to adapt themselves to Swedish values.

Using individuals with an immigrant background in general and with Muslim background in particular, is an established strategy for xenophobic and racist governments in order to protect themselves from being accused of racism and legitimize their anti-Muslim and xenophobic policies. I conducted several national and international research projects on this common strategy and published the results among other publications in my book Racial Discrimination: Institutional Patterns and Politics. Sabuni was not only backed by openly racist parties (e.g., Sweden Democrats) and groups, but also by xenophobic groups and individuals within mainstream political parties. Increasing racism in Sweden has recently encouraged her to make a comeback in Swedish whitewashed politics as a nominee for the leadership of the Liberal Party. Even more, Sabuni has criticized her party for not cooperating with a racist party in Sweden.

I was shocked by mainstream parties’ rapid move to the right and their successive adjustment to “the spirit of the time,” namely increasing racism, xenophobia and populism in a country with a long history of “adjustment” to powerful political trends during its modern history. The establishment of the “State institute for Racial Biology” in early twentieth century, close cooperation and relationship with Nazi Germany from 1939 to the mid-40s, and maintaining good relations with both great powers of the Cold War are just a few illustrations of historical “adjustments”.

Social Democratic Party and increasing racism

When the election of 2006 approached and my team of governmental investigators and I were about to present the investigation’s final report on racism, I felt the hardening of the political climate. I understood that the cold racist winds sent shivers through politicians, including leading Social Democrats. Politicians started talking to me about the importance and necessity of “real politics” and about the difficulties and “burden” of being a politician in “such a difficult political period.” One illustration of this was when the Minister of Integration, Jens Orback, in a TV interview criticized my investigation for not providing “evidence” for the existence of institutional and structural discrimination in the country. The day after the interview I met him and criticized him for “lying.” I did so because in previous discussions with me he had indicated that the investigation was very important and had given the government “necessary instruments for changing the discriminatory systems in Sweden.” He said: “This is real politics Masoud, we are depending on people’s votes and not on researchers’ truths.” I told him about my belief in and imagination about the “Palme legacy” in Social Democratic Party. He answered: “It was another time, my friend, you should realize that.” On my way home I thought if Palme was still alive, what would he say about such political lies during a time of increasing injustices and racism that harm hundreds of thousands of people in such a small country.

Even the Social Democratic Party’s leadership and ideologues understood the usefulness of individuals with immigrant backgrounds, who would legitimate the Party’s growing xenophobic and restrictive immigration policies. One such person used by politicians was Nalin Pekgul, a woman with Kurdish background, who frequently participated in the public debate and warned of the “growing Islamism” in marginalized areas. She and her fellow party members, who have had political power in Sweden for almost 80 years, ignored their own role in creating disenfranchised areas and marginalization for many people in the country. Again, the responsibility for the marginalization and segregation of people with immigrant backgrounds was blamed on marginalized persons themselves as well as their religion and culture. A few politicians with immigrant backgrounds contacted me and felt very uncomfortable with the increasing racism within the party.

Whitewashing the political power

Already during the early days of my appointment as the lead governmental investigator, the Minister of Integration, Mona Sahlin, told me that she had received many letters and emails accusing her of allowing Muslims to influence the politics of the country. They saw me as a representative of a world conspiracy of Muslims calling for the Islamization of Sweden. Despite the critical storm against me, the Minister of Integration, Mona Sahlin, gave her sincere support to me and the investigation. She also openly declared that as “one of the best qualified researchers in the country,” my criticism was correct regarding the government’s integration policy and the government’s ignorance of discrimination and racism. Sahlin also added that she had changed her understanding of the question of integration and believed that racism and discrimination hinders the integration of minorities.

Unfortunately, quickly after her declarations and open support of me and the investigation, Sahlin was replaced by a new Minister of Integration, Jens Orback, a politician with no experience and knowledge regarding integration and racism. I asked several people with insider knowledge about the reasons why Sahlin was replaced by Orback. The reason I heard was that the Prime Minister, Göran Persson, believed that the Social Democratic Party’s immigrant integration policy should not significantly differ from the right-wing Alliance parties, because the Social Democratic Party could lose the election. This was of course due to adaptation of “Third Way” politics developed in the United Kingdom (UK) in cooperation with social scientists such as Anthony Giddens and politicians such as the Prime Minister of the UK Tony Blair and the US president Bill Clinton. The Third Way sociologist, Anthony Giddens, provided a “scientific ground” for social democratic parties’ transformation to right in many western countries including Sweden. He claimed that “The Third Way can beat far right by modernizing, liberalizing and being tough on immigration.” Social Democrats lost the election of 2006 and a new right-wing government called the Alliance government seized state power. The new government appointed Nyamko Sabuni as the Minister of Integration. Given that she was one of Sweden’s most anti-immigrant and xenophobic political figures, Sabuni did not miss any opportunity to attack my investigation and put “the blame” of increasing racial segregation on immigrants. Sabuni claimed that she would solve the problem of integration during her term as minister. Mainstream dailies presented the new integration policy as the way of counteracting and correcting “the Social Democratic Kamali investigation, and Mona Sahlin’s understanding of integration.

Many right wing and conservative dailies supported Sabuni and claimed that the new government is going to solve the problem of integration in near future.

Symbolic violence, torture and whites’ interpretive prerogative

Denial of racism has deep roots in Sweden. A common tactic in denying the existence of racism in the country is to say “it has nothing to do with racism,” but with “non-nuanced” researchers, such as Kamali, who do not understand the “Swedish mentality,” Sweden’s “tradition of equality,” “solidary history,” and “values.” With this tactic and discourse, it is uninformed Swedes who are given interpretive prerogative over antiracist researchers, politicians, journalists and activists. I was subjected to the same demonization as some other antiracist politicians and journalist of color, such as Juan Fonseca and Alexandra Pascalidou. Fonseca as one of the first politicians of color in Sweden to publicly attack racism and discrimination against people of color in Sweden was stamped as “terrorist” in late 1990s. The demonization of Fonseca has led to his exclusion from Swedish parliament and the Social Democratic Party. He declared that “Racists in the party will stop me.” He left the Social Democrats and joined the Christian Democratic Party. However, after four years, he was forced to leave the new party and declared that there was no room for antiracist politics in that party. Many journals attacked him for being “anti-Swede” and “terrorist”.

The famous antiracist journalist of color, Alexandra Pascalidou, has also been under attack for many decades. She has been openly attacked and even threatened to death. She lost her leading position at the Swedish TV-program Mosaik because she introduced “too much antiracism” in the program. The cases of Fonseca, Pascalidou and me are just three examples of many people do not accept “their place in society” provided by white nationalists and the white power structure in Sweden. Such racist actions against people of color who are fighting against racism are done mainly by soft means of violence (“symbolic violence”) in order to eliminate any “threat” to the reproduction of the white structures of domination. This is discussed more in my book War, Violence and Social Justice.

In an interview with the daily newspaper, Dagens Nyheter, I said that “the hatred and physical and symbolic violence against me in Sweden, are worse than the torture I was subjected to as a political prisoner in Iran.” This evoked further hate and attacks against me and the former Minister of Integration in the Social Democratic government, Jan O. Karlsson, wrote an article in Sweden’s major tabloid, Expressen, titled “Stupid Kamali,” and said that “Masoud Kamali reduces, trivializes the suffering of all the people who have languished in the world’s torture chambers.”

Karlsson, who as the Minister of Integration showed his racist attitudes when he was forced to report about how he improved the integration of immigrants by saying that “We can’t walk around [governmental agencies] asking what have we done for the negroes today.” He presents himself here as the champion of those immigrants who have been subjected to torture. He did not even follow the politically correct Swedish tradition of being racist and later apologizing for his racist utterance about “negroes,” and said that “it was just a warning.”

I could provide names of many people who share my experiences and who will provide many examples of the symbolic (and in some cases physical) violence that they are subjected to on a daily basis as a member of minority groups. Did Karlsson ever ask those who he called “negroes” how they felt about their situation? Did Karlsson ever ask a child with an immigrant background who attends Swedish kindergartens and schools about their feelings of being othered and subjected to racist insults? Did Karlsson ever ask people with immigrant backgrounds about the daily symbolic violence they are subjected to in their workplaces, on buses, in their contacts with authoritie, and even when they are looking at Swedish TV? Did Karlsson ever ask women with headscarves about the public insults they are subjected to? Did Karlsson ever listen to young individuals who are depressed, silenced, and exhausted because of the everyday and systemic racism they are subjected to?

As Joe Feagin (2006) analyzes in detail, systemic racism creates much everyday racial oppression, most of which is fundamentally materialistic. It also regularly involves an aggressively hierarchical ordering of racial groups legitimated and rationalized by a dominant “white racial frame” affecting individuals, groups and societal institutions over a very long period during so-called “modern times” in Europe and North America.

Karlsson’s attack on me should be seen in light of the existence of a dominant “white racial frame,” which according to Feagin and O’Brien (2003) positions powerful white agents, especially elite white men, explicitly at the forefront of the discussion (and perpetuation) of racial oppression. Karlsson and certain other white men and women in Sweden’s public sphere knew that their attacks on me and others would fall in the fertile soil of white racial framing that functions as a shield, an often invisible white support system irrespective of the facts.

Karlsson and many other politicians and journalists who criticized me had no interest in asking me how I felt about my children and my family being subjected to death threats; or in asking me about my daily reflections regarding whether it was not better to stay and suffer execution in Iran because of my protest deeds there, which I was proud of–and not suffer because of my skin color and background, which influenced even my self-image as a human who wants to be treated equally. They had no interest in asking me about my daily anxieties about if it was not better for the future and the well-being of my children if I had stayed in Iran regardless of the outcome, instead of subjecting my children to life-long Swedish racism, which can destroy their sense of human dignity because of their skin color and immigrant background.